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Flip-flop at the helm of Thai politics

Updated On: Jun 29, 2007

After all the policy flip-flops from an incompetent government and a junta that increasingly reveals its desire to stay in power, the incumbent Thai authorities have been widely denounced. The final vestiges of whatever credibility the Thai authorities had have now crumbled with the latest declaration from the head of the Council of National Security (CNS) Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratglin on Temasek's investments inThailand.

In an exclusive interview with Bloomberg, Sonthi said that “the telco assets which Temasek had bought from ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra's family was just business”, the Today reported. He also revealed that the spying accusations against Singapore[through Temasek's assets] were a nationalistic ploy meant merely to “make Thai people feel more protective about the country's assets”. After all the intense diplomatic rows, Sonthi admitted that, “I don't think they did anything wrong. We don't have any bad feelings about that. We still have a good relationship with Singapore.”

This about-turn must come as a surprise as many relate the whole Temasek purchase of Shin Corp to the downfall of Thaksin. It is questionable if Sonthi realizes this announcement shows the authorities in a bad light even for the sake of the Thai economy “battered by a bungled attempt to impose capital controls, tougher foreign ownership laws and amid mounting protests against the junta and administration installed after last September's coup”. Business confidence is at the lowest in eight years and consumer confidence is at a five-year low, the Today reported.

Singapore-based director of economic forecasting at Action Economics, David Cohen, said, “Maybe he appreciates the value of a more conciliatory tone in terms of their appeal to investors. Maybe they're ready to turn the page to the next chapter with the election coming. A more amiable environment will prove helpful to the economy as well.”

Whatever it is, the junta is not winning new friends after the Cabinet last week approved a proposal from the CNS to have a new security law to give more power to the military to control Thailand by a restoration of the Internal Security Operation Command (ISOC). The Nation reported that “human rights activists and legal experts [have] demanded the military-installed government dump the newly proposed internal security bill”. Prinya Thewanaruemitkul, a law academic from Thammasat University, protested, “The bill, if passed into law, would allow the junta `to perpetuate its power to control the country forever' as it allows the Army chief to control the movement of people, prohibit demonstrations, impose an unlimited curfew and control the trade in goods, have power over all state agencies and no single judicial authority would be able to counter that”. Prinya added, “Even the bad mannered junta who staged the coup in 1991 never issued such an authoritarian law.”

Sonthi has defended the bill, saying that Malaysia and Singapore had internal security laws which aided national stability and progress. He said, “Singapore and Malaysia are developed, their people are happy. I think we have to look at the big picture. We have our own norms and culture; we don't need to listen to outsiders who criticise our human rights and democracy.”

One critical thing that Sonthi has perhaps forgotten is that both Singapore and Malaysia do not have a strong politicized military. For the moment, however, Sonthi has announced no political interest but says that he might do so in future. He added, “If I want to enter politics I would run in an election, not perpetuate the junta's power. It's not right.”

The Thai army is also undergoing major restructuring with “a budget increase of 24 per cent [from 2007] to Bt143 billion for 2008”. This is sure to boost military morale, the Nation said, which has been undermined severely by the Southern conflict. (28 June 2007)

Sources:

Sonthi says no plans at the moment to enter politics (Nation, 26 June 2007)

Growing outcry over move to empower Isoc (Nation, 26 June 2007)

Temasek's Thai investment was 'just business' (Today online, 27 June 2007)

Military spending to soar a further 24% (Nation, 28 June 2007)